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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Olympic disaster for free expression in China

August 24, 2008

Reporters Without Borders
August 22, 2008

Reporters Without Borders condemns Chinese government cynicism and
IOC inability to ensure respect for charter

With just two days to go to the closing ceremony, Reporters Without
Borders today gave a negative evaluation of respect for free speech
during the Beijing games. While most foreign reporters were able to
cover the sports events without a problem, police and their civilian
auxiliaries repeatedly prevented journalists from covering
demonstrations or investigating subjects which the government regards
as sensitive.

"As we feared, the Beijing Olympic games have been a period conducive
to arrests, convictions, censorship, surveillance and harassment of
more than 100 journalists, bloggers and dissidents," Reporters
Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said.

"This repression will be remembered as one of the defining
characteristics of the Beijing games. The International Olympic
Committee will have to accept much of responsibility for this
failure. We think it is vital that the IOC's members should draw the
necessary conclusions in their choice of a president to succeed
Jacques Rogge when his term of office is up in a year's time.

"We also call for respect for free expression to become one of the
criteria when selecting cities to host the games. Although the
Olympic movement repeated its Beijing mistake when it chose the
Russian city of Sochi for the 2014 Winter Games, Reporters Without
Borders will continue to campaign for guarantees for press freedom
during sports events.

"We hail all those in China and abroad who did not stop pressing for
more freedom of expression before the Olympic Games," Ménard added.
"We will remain vigilant in case the post-Olympic period ushers in a
new wave of repression."

No Chinese prisoner of conscience has been released since the games
began on 8 August. But several (including Sun Lin, Huang Qi and Hu
Jia) have seen a deterioration in their prison conditions and their
health. A total of 31 journalists, bloggers and free speech activists
have been arrested or given prison sentences since the start of the year.

Surveillance of foreign reporters was stepped up before and during
the games. "They don't stop following me, filming me and
photographing me," a foreign news agency journalist based in Beijing
said. "I think twice before interviewing Chinese about sensitive
issues for fear that they could be arrested."

Commitments to respect press freedom were nonetheless made at the
highest government level. President Hu Jintao himself said in the
presence of the foreign press on 1 August that China would
"facilitate the work" of foreign journalists "before and after the
Beijing Olympic Games." Liu Binjie, the person in charge of the
General Administration of Press and Publications, said the "open
door" for the foreign media "will not close after the games."

A few figures

At least 22 foreign journalists were attacked or arrested or
otherwise obstructed during the games. Two US video-bloggers, Brian
Conley and Jeffrey Rae, are currently detained in Beijing for
covering the activities of pro-Tibetan activists. They have been
sentenced to 10 days in prison for "disrupting public order."
Reporters Without Borders calls for their immediate release.

At least 50 Beijing-based human rights activists were placed under
house arrest, harassed or forced to leave the capital during the games.

At least 15 Chinese citizens were arrested for requesting permission
to demonstrate. Dozens of others, including the blogger Zhou "Zola"
Shuguang and the handicapped petitioner Chen Xiujuan, were physically
prevented by police from travelling to the capital.

At least 47 pro-Tibet activists, mostly members or supporters of
Students for a Free Tibet, were arrested in Beijing.

Ability of foreign press to work in China

In 2001, Wang Wei promised "total freedom for the press" during the
Olympic Games. This promise was not kept.

1. Violence and obstruction: Reporters Without Borders is aware of 22
incidents between 6 and 22 August in China. Properly accredited
foreign journalists such as British television news reporter John Ray
were manhandled or, as in the case of two Japanese reporters in the
northwestern city of Kashgar (Xinjiang), were arrested.

2. Freedom of movement: Journalists were able to visit the province
of Xinjiang but found it hard to get into Tibet. The foreign press
was prevented from visiting the Beijing home of Zeng Jinyan, the wife
of imprisoned dissident Hu Jia. In the weeks prior to the games,
several journalists were prevented from working freely in Sichuan,
the province hit by the 12 May earthquake.

3. Freedom to interview: Many journalists complained of police or
civilian volunteers intervening when they tried to interview Chinese.
A news agency reporter said that, in the course of a week, at least
five of the people she had interviewed were subsequently arrested.

Two journalists - one working for a Hong Kong daily and the other for
Radio Free Asia's Tibetan service - were refused visas for China
although that had been given press accreditation for the games.
Chinese embassies refused to issue visas to six members of Reporters
Without Borders.

During the news conferences that the Beijing Organising Committee of
the Olympic Games (BOCOG) held for the international media, its
representatives, above all BOCOG vice-president Wang Wei, refused to
comment on the various incidents involving freedom of expression.
With the IOC's agreement, BOCOG even cancelled some of the news
conference after English-language journalists were too insistent with
their questions.

The authorities promised that the more relaxed rules for the foreign
media adopted in January 2007 would be maintained after the Olympic
Games but no directive has so far been issued putting this into
effect. If no such directive is issued, the foreign media's freedom
of movement and freedom to interview will end in October, after the
Paralympic Games.

Reporters Without Borders accuses the government of blackmail, of
conditioning the maintenance of the more favourable rules on the
foreign media's good behaviour.

Right to demonstrate

The organisers designated places in Beijing for demonstrators but
permission was not given for any demonstration, although 77
applications were filed with the Beijing Public Security Bureau. More
seriously, at least 15 Chinese were arrested for requesting
permission, including two women in the late 70s. Sentences of
reeducation through work were imposed on some of the applicants.

The Chinese authorities accused the would-be demonstrators of
intending to commit an offence, and punished them for this. The IOC
has accused the Chinese government of breaking its promises in this respect.

In view of the impossibility of demonstrating freely in Beijing,
several international organisations staged unauthorised street
protests or gave news conferences in hotel rooms.

Reporters Without Borders clandestinely broadcast FM radio programmes
in Chinese and English on 8 August in Beijing, above all as a protest
against the state's monopoly of broadcast news and information and
its jamming of international radio stations that broadcast in the
Chinese, Tibetan and Uyghur languages. This censorship did not stop
during the games.

Dissidents in danger

"I hope that the 2008 games will be over as quickly as possible as
this event has brought us too much suffering," the wife of one of the
"Olympic prisoners" told Reporters Without Borders. Around 10 human
rights activists including cyber-dissident Hu Jia were arrested
before the games and most of them were given prison sentences for
criticising the Olympics. These "Olympic prisoners" were treated very
harshly. One of them, Yang Chunlin, who got a five-year sentence, was
brought into court in chains.

Leading figures such as Ding Zilin of the Mothers of Tiananmen and
Wan Yanhai, who heads an NGO that cares for AIDS victims, were forced
to leave the capital during the games for fear of reprisals. There
has been no news of Zeng Jinyan, the well-known blogger and wife of
Hu Jia, or their eight-month-old daughter since the start of the games.

Many human rights activists and Xinjiang inhabitants fear a crackdown
after the games to punish those who spoiled the authorities. One of
the police directives whose existence was revealed by Reporters
Without Borders on 20 August says Chinese who criticise the
government in interviews for the foreign news media must be properly
investigated. It also tells policemen to follow the foreign
journalists who carry out this kind of interview.

Reporters Without Borders fears that once the thousands of foreign
journalists have left Beijing, the political police will step up its
control of human rights activists and the population in Xinjiang and Tibet.

Internet censorship

Reporters Without Borders has confirmed that access to around 30
human rights websites and Chinese-language news websites is still
blocked in China, including in the foreign press centres. The latest
website to be censored is iTunes. A pro-Tibetan NGO said this was
because the iTunes site enabled athletes in Beijing to listen to
pro-Tibetan songs.

The Chinese authorities discriminated against Tibetan Internet users
as many websites that were unblocked for the games, such as those of
Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International, continued to be
blocked in Tibet.

The government departments in charge of online censorship stepped up
monitoring and controls during the games. Chinese Human Rights
Defenders released a memo from ISP Xinwang Hulian to website editors
saying: "To ensure the safety of information on the Internet during
the Beijing Olympics and in accordance with requests from higher
authorities, Xinwang Hulian will conduct a safety inspection of its
sites." Discussion forums took measures against their most outspoken
participants, denying them access during the games.

Hacker attacks on human rights websites increased during the games.
This was the case both for sites in China, such as the online
publication Yizhou Xiwen, and those outside the country, such as

Propaganda and revelations in the Chinese press

The more independent-minded Chinese newspapers ran some stories that
were embarrassing for the government. The business magazine Caijing,
for example, did not hesitate to report a senior official's suicide
during the games. The daily Xinjingbao (Beijing News) was censored
for inadvertently publishing a photo of a victim of the 1989
Tiananmen Square massacre. Copies of the newspaper were withdrawn
from sale and the website was censored.

The Propaganda Department remained vigilant, issuing frequent
instructions to the media restricting coverage of certain
Olympic-related news such as the faking that took place during the
opening ceremony.

Other newspapers, such as Global Times, distinguished themselves by
their hostility towards the foreign media. And the state media kept
pumping out reports that reflected well on the organisers of the
games. Footage of anti-Olympic protests in China and abroad were
never broadcast.

International Olympic Committee's responsibility

When the IOC voted to award these games to China in 2001, it knew
that the issue of human rights would be at the heart of the event.
But, throughout the seven long years from the vote until the start of
the games, the IOC and its president, Jacques Rogge, proved incapable
of getting the Chinese authorities to make lasting improvements in
respect for freedom of expression.

The IOC had an obligation to ensure respect for the Olympic Charter,
which says sport must serve "the harmonious development of man, with
a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the
preservation of human dignity." It is guilty of a serious dereliction of duty.

Instead of ensuring respect for the dignity of Chinese human rights
activists, Rogge preferred to censor athletes who wanted to wear a
badge saying "For a better world" and to expel a Senegalese coach who
called for "Friendship first, then competition."

Reporters Without Borders urges those at the head of the Olympic
movement to ask themselves what the criteria for awarding future
games should be. The current criteria are not only technical and
material, but also environmental. Why not add respect for free
expression in the would-be host city's country to the criteria used?
The IOC could, for example, take account of the existence (or not) of
independent media, the degree of censorship and the freedom of
national and foreign journalist to move about the country.

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